Last week, I joined Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, one of our nation’s most brilliant public intellectuals and a leading scholar and teacher of the Islamic tradition, in a letter to the chief executive officers of America’s largest hotel chains asking them to stop offering pornography in their hotel rooms. We wrote as a Muslim and a Christian, but we appealed to the executives “not on the basis of truths revealed in our scriptures but on the basis of a commitment that should be shared by all people of reason and goodwill: a commitment to human dignity and the common good.” We noted that “as teachers and as parents, we seek a society in which young people are encouraged to respect others and themselves—treating no one as an impersonal object or thing.”
Today, Public Discourse, the on-line journal of the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, publishes the text of our letter. Here is a link.
Much has been learned about the harmful personal effects and social costs of pornography since the 1950s when Hugh Hefner launched his successful (and astonishingly lucrative) effort to make “soft-core” pornography socially acceptable. Still, many people continue to imagine that pornography, if it is a vice at all, is a harmless one. ”Naughty, naughty,” but nothing to really worry much about. Some even push the line that porn is a good thing—fulfilling and liberating, something that “spices up” marriages and helps people to get over ignorant taboos and debilitating sexual “hang ups.” Readers who are interested in a summary of what has been learned by experts in psychiatry, psychology, counseling, family therapy, and related fields might have a look at The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations, prepared under Witherspoon auspices by Mary Eberstadt of the Hudson Institute and Mary Anne Layden, Director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. A pdf is available here.
Our letter to hotel executives is one more example of Christians and Muslims working together to uphold values that people of both faiths understand are central to personal and civic virtue and to justice and the common good. It is important for Catholics and other Christians to recognize that the vast majority of our Muslim fellow citizens, like the vast majority of American Christians, want for their children the kind of society in which they are encouraged to respect themselves and others as persons bearing profound and inherent dignity. It is no accident that across the country Christian parents who are, for example, fighting against programs in middle and high schools (and now even in some elementary schools) that offend modesty and undermine chastity find themselves standing should to shoulder with Muslim parents (and in many areas with orthodox Jewish parents as well) in the struggle. Muslim Americans share with Christian Americans and others a belief in freedom and in fundamental rights and liberties; but like other people of faith they are not taken in by expressive individualist and relativist conceptions of freedom that erase the distinction between liberty and license. They know that freedom and virtue, far from being adversaries, stand or fall together.